Temper, temper...

We all get annoyed from time to time, but how can we calm ourselves down really quickly and perhaps get rattled a little less often too?

March 2, 2017

Getting frustrated is useful. In fact, recent research suggests that feelings of anger frequently drive us to take pro-social action - that is to say, action to make useful or good things happen. 

Other recent research has even shown that, to a point, we can even think straight when we are angry although we do take into account a smaller number of factors in our mental calculations. Having said all that, we all know that there comes a stage when our feelings do get the better of us and logical thought, as well as our keenness towards social behaviour, does fall off the edge of a cliff. 

Neurally speaking it means that our Amygdalae (two little, almond-shaped collections of cells that produce the fight/flight range of neurotransmitters) are in overdrive to produce the chemicals that arouse us and as a result make it difficult, if not impossible, to process the usual complex range information as usual. So things that would normally influence us, such as our knowledge of likely consequences, or insights into how the other person might be feeling, don't get taken into account.

To compound our anger problem, displaying annoyance has external, social consequences - we get noticed for the wrong reasons. We frighten people! They then often react one of three ways, which I'm sure you can name immediately: FFF (flee, fight, freeze). 

Therefore, finding better things to do with anger rather than simply allowing it to take its ordinary and primeval course, is worth it. But what are the options?

A frequent resort for many is to pretend that everything is OK. Putting on a 'professional' façade to spare everyone's feelings (or to preserve our job as we might see it) plays the comfort game: 

I won't frighten you if you will just take the hint that I'm not happy and do something about it to make me feel better.

Getting overtly annoyed is another commonplace, but even less comfortable stratagem, because it spreads the bigger feelings which fewer can handle ably. The point here is that you can't carry on like nothing is happening if someone is blowing a fuse in front of you: your own base reactions have to kick in (enter the Amygdala sisters for Act 2)... unless you really know what you're doing ... and tell the truth. 

The only really effective course of action if we want to get rid of the feelings we are having is to say what's on our minds, or rather in our hearts (reads better than Amygdalae) - or at least a version of it that contains enough of the real feeling for our brain to be able to recognise that we have 'put it out there'. That it seems is the tick. Naming the feeling out loud seems to give our brain the signal it needs to process feelings in a higher way which then sees the Amygdalae settle down to more normal levels of activity.

Of course honesty has its drawbacks, the many politically savvy amongst you would say. Yeah OK. But let's weigh up the opposing risks and you can decide.

On one hand, if I lose my temper, I risk being branded as aggressive and 'out of control' . On the other hand, if I exercise loads of self-control I either risk the strength of my conviction being hidden behind my professional veil (with the consequence that I will be ignored) or worse, in trying to hide my feelings I end up 'leaking' emotion like a sieve and then come across as 'passive aggressive'. 

Whereas if I can learn to explain my feelings to you whilst I am still in charge of them, I get to tell you what I want without frightening the horses.

Here are three examples of how it might sound - with increasing levels of insistence/annoyance being explained:

Ed, I'm really uncomfortable about signing up to this as it is. 

I'm annoyed that this white paper has been circulated without me being consulted.

To be honest, I'm fuming. The Board promised to pass that resolution last month and now we are having to put the brakes on because they've delayed  -without explanation.

Shared common sense has told us for years that 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. Talking about feelings works. What are you waiting for?

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